Making information easier to find for families of children with SEND

We redesigned the Local Offer website aimed at families of children with special educational needs and disability (SEND) to make it simpler and quicker to find what they need.

One of the things that sets the Croydon Digital Service apart from previous digital initiatives by the council is the introduction of a team of people skilled in various user-centred design disciplines, which I head up. One of the first digital products that this new digital design team was asked to help with was the Local Offer website. This contains information, advice and a directory of activities for children with SEND and their families. Part of the site is updated by Parents In Partnership (PIP), a charity that specialises in helping SEND families. The rest of it is updated by council staff on a site provided by an external company called Open Objects. The site was receiving lots of negative feedback from users, and our brief was to find out why and improve on it.  

Our user research

We spoke to parents, PIP, school staff and children (a previous blog post talked about what we learned from talking to children with severe impairments or disabilities). We used a mixture of interviews and observing people using the website, and also looked at how updates are added and the communication between the different teams involved. 

What we found

  • Parents found the site too complicated. The amount of information was overwhelming and there were too many search options and filters. 
  • Listings for services and activities missed out the necessary backend information, so many of them did not appear in searches. 
  • Staff that were updating the site were children’s services professionals, not content designers. Writing for the web is a specialist skill that we shouldn’t expect everyone to be able to do. We needed someone able to focus on content design and engagement. 

What we did: 

Simplified the website 

  • Redesigned the homepage.
  • Added the heading “Find a service or activity for families and people with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND)”, for the many people who didn’t know the term “Local Offer”.
  • Reduced the search options from 3 to 1 and simplified the result filters.
  • Made the difference between searching for “activities and groups” and looking through “information and advice” much clearer.
  • Created an “I want to” area to make the most frequent things that people are looking for easy to find (more will be added to this area). 
  • Removed unnecessary links to other places.
  • Improved accessibility by changing the background colour of text boxes.

Audited and improved the content 

  • Added the missing information so that listings would appear in the search – this was a huge task. Our content designer Sam was tagging and reviewing content for weeks. 
  • Reorganised the structure.
  • Removed national listings. 
  • Created a style guide.
  • Completed a full evaluation with one service area and made a plan for updating it. We only had time to work with one service, but the evaluation method we used can act as a model for others.

You can see the changes by comparing the before and after images.

Before:

Before image of Local Offer, with a box about NHS choices

Before image of the Local Offer website showing tiles with categories on different topics

After:

After image of the Local Offer website with the NHS and topic sections replaced by top tasks

Shared our work and findings with the service and PIP

We took them through the user research results, the improvements and our recommendations for next steps. It was a really positive meeting with great feedback about our work from PIP, who said it was the best work that had been done on the service in 2 years.  

What we’re doing next 

We’re working with Children’s services to recruit a Content and Engagement manager and apprentice – the manager role is still open, please get in touch with us to learn more!

Together they’ll maintain, promote and continuously improve the website, and ensure that parents continue to be consulted and feedback is acted on. We will ensure that all the research and findings are shared with them, contacts made and that they are supported to develop the relationships and engagement which are crucial in ensuring that the site works for its users. 

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